From its high-speed motorbikes to its classic sports car races, everything about Donington Park is fast-paced and loud. And the third weekend in June is no exception. However, it’s not big engines and pristine mechanics that bring this audience to the grounds: it’s large amps, even larger stages and, of course, brilliant bands. It’s Download Festival.
Despite the first morning’s poor weather, fans battle on putting up their tents and head down to the arena, where things are starting to take off. Gypsy punk fusion crew Gogol Bordello may seem like an unusual act to play such a heavy festival; but as soon as their colour and presence fills the stage, there’s no question that this is where they belong.
Wearing tie-dye clothes, theirs is a wide-ranging sound, members banging drums and stomping gleefully throughout the performance. The unmistakable ‘Start Wearing Purple’ gets a great reaction.
As the sun begins to rise on Saturday afternoon, Seattle grungers Alice In Chains step out onto the main stage, kicking things off with the classic track, ‘Them Bones’.
The band’s singer, William DuVall, is as smooth and charismatic as his voice suggests, as he leans over, exciting the audience with his cool attitude and harmonies. Halfway through the set, the singer changes his guitar to an acoustic, giving him the soft noise needed as the band breaks into the beautiful ‘Down In A Hole’.
As well as older hits, the band gives the audience a taster of their new material, playing ‘Hollow’ and ‘Stone’ from ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’. After a flawless performance, the group ends on ‘Rooster’, warming the audience for the other acts left to come.
Opening with the legendary ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’, Queens Of The Stone Age seem to have every person in the field screaming their lyrics.
“We’ll give you something to get laid to,” says the cheeky Josh Homme, before breaking into another groovy guitar riff. With ‘No One Knows’, ‘A Song For The Dead’ and ‘My God Is The Sun’ all worked into the performance, who could ask for a better set-list?
“God, what is that helicopter doing?” Homme asks, as said vehicle circles the field. “Maybe he should just go with the flow...” he says, before launching into that song. Little does Homme know: that helicopter is planned for something that falls under the category of unthinkable.
As the crowd waits for Iron Maiden, the spectacular happens and a Spitfire flies directly over the stage and audience. This is debatably one of the best starts to a gig ever.
For those not wanting to see Maiden, The Hives serve as a lighter option, playing funky tunes such as ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’ on a smaller stage.
As the sun shines down on Download’s finest, it’s clear on Sunday morning that the festival has claimed many victims. Today, people are scattered around the arena, waiting to be woken from slumber.
The Gaslight Anthem seems like the perfect band to finish the festival on, as they blast out their clean cut guitars and gritty vocals to the Sunday afternoon crowd. Brian Fallon tells his audience a story of love and loss, crossing the whole of American.
‘American Slang’ and ‘Too Much Blood’ are just a couple of songs to name, and the band busts out a surprising yet brilliant cover of Misfits’ ‘Astro Zombies’. As The Gaslight Anthem finish on ‘Backseat’, for Clash the festival experience is over. However, for others, Thirty Seconds To Mars and the pyro madness that is Rammstein still await.
Words: Sophie Sparham
Photo: Jessica Gilbert
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